Rachel Dein creates floral tiles by pressing flowers and foliage into clay and then takes a plaster cast of the imprint. I discovered that as well sourcing from her own garden, she preserves wedding bouquets. In Part 2, I explored how cloth can be used to remember objects, so researching Dein seemed appropriate.
At first, I found the tiles rather attractive. The subject matter and plain white plaster suggested a cheerful, clean and stylish solution to the inevitable decay of natural materials. Yet the more I considered the tiles the more melancholy I felt. On Dein’s own website Ngoc Ming Ngo describes the tiles as ‘ghostly’ and ‘haunting’ ¹; I think these words are highly appropriate.
Dein’s process evolved from nature printing by early botanists, I wondered if this scientific heritage was what gave the tiles their cold, stillness? I researched Botanical Illustration, Botanical Art and Flower Painting; made a Master Study of G D Ehret and considered Redoute’s typical composition. What I discovered was a lot of tenderness and warmth in the details, particularly in the application of colour and extraordinary draughtsmanship, concluding this wasn’t the reason the tiles made me sad.
The plain, empty space that characteristically surrounds the flowers in both Botanical Illustration and Dein’s work seems to contribute to the stillness. The images appear like icons, isolated and detached from their surroundings. By changing the composition in my own tiles I was able to alter the ‘feel’ of the tiles by bring texture right up to the edges. I found this combined with the addition of colour made the tiles feel more ‘alive’.
I observed that Dein’s tiles gave me a similar feeling to walking into Ipswich Museum, with its extensive collection of Victorian taxidermy. Later when reading about Rachel Whiteread I found the probable cause for this:
“The vast majority of Whiteread’s work can only be created at the expense of the object- a floorboard, a table, a room, a house. Her sculptures document the history of the object up to that moment, but only by destroying it’ future life”. ²
This could equally be applied to Rachel Dein, her subject matter is also robbed of it’s future potential. One could argue that the organic matter would shrivel and decay without her intervention and in her work it is preserved forever. I think it interferes with the nature order of things and breaks the cycle of life.
What I learned from this research regarding casting, is to look further than the aesthetics of the materials used. My initial thoughts were investigate the physical aspects of the work: colour and composition. It wasn’t until I considered it in broader terms that I understood the feelings it provoked in me. It seems the object that is to be moulded from can be as influential as the material that records it.
² MULLINS, C. Rachel Whiteread (2004) Tate Publishings. P47